Not surprisingly, we discussed uncertainty during Futures Research class this semester. Hugh Courtney’s 20/20 Foresight: Crafting Strategy in an Uncertain World came up as we discussed frameworks for helping us understand strategy. We reviewed the summary graphic and moved on. But I made a note to revisit the book. The concept of 4 levels is helpful.
Courtney suggests scenario planning is a good fit for Levels 2 and 3 uncertainty. Agreed. Most foresight tools are indeed aimed at 2 and 3. I think we’d all agree that Level 1 uncertainty is an endangered species. Yet, that is where the traditional strategy tool is aimed: Porter’s 5 forces, market research, SWOT, benchmarking, NPV. He had little to suggest for what he terms the “rare” level 4 uncertainty. His description sounded most like backcasting.
What I need to think more about is where messes or wicked problems fit? I was tempted to say level 4, but are they truly ambiguous or uncertainty, or is just impossible to get agreement. If we take higher education as an example of a wicked problem. I think we could characterize a range of alternatives, but I don’t think we’d have much confidence in moving toward any of them.
For strategists, there are some helpful specifics around five types of strategic questions:
- Shape or adapt?
- Now or later?
- Focus or diversify?
- New tools and frameworks?
- New processes for monitoring and updating strategies?
I am thinking about how we might include these questions in our Foresight Framework approach. We are constantly seeking to update and add options to our approach.
One quibble might be his definition of foresight as “an accurate view of the future.” I suppose it’s the word accurate. [see foresight and being right]. To offset the quibble, I liked the residual uncertainty is the uncertainty left after you have done your analysis; it’s not what you don’t know, but what you cannot know. It reminds me of Pierre Wack’s approach that sought to “convert” uncertainties to predetermineds where possible [my language not his]. I know that I sometimes get too enamored of uncertainty….I like the reminder that we should reduce where we can. Andy Hines